When the Soviet collapse occurred, the universal reaction was “Who could have known?” Well, I knew. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a surgeon in the summer of 1990, right as I was going under the knife to get my appendix excised, waiting for the anesthesia to kick in. He asked me about what was going to happen to the Soviet republics, Armenia in particular. I told him that they would be independent in less than a year. He looked positively shocked. I was off by a couple of months. I hope to be able to call the American collapse with the same degree of precision.
I suppose I was well positioned to know, and I am tempted to venture a guess at how I achieved that. My area of expertise at the time was measurement and data acquisition electronics for high energy physics experiments, not Sovietology. But I had spent the previous summer in Leningrad, where I grew up, and had a fair idea of what was up in the USSR. Meanwhile, the entire gaggle of actual paid, professional Russia experts that was ensconced in various government agencies in Washington or consuming oxygen at various foundations and universities in the US had absolutely no idea what to expect.
I suspect that there is a principle involved: if your career depends on the continued existence of X, and if X is about to cease to exist, then you are not going to be highly motivated to accurately predict that event. Conversely, if you could manage to accurately predict the spontaneous existence failure of X, then you would also be clever enough to switch careers ahead of time, hence would no longer be an expert on X and your opinion on the matter would be disregarded. People would think that you screwed yourself out of a perfectly good job and are now embittered. Right now I am observing the same phenomenon at work among Russian experts on the United States: they can’t imagine that the various things they have spent their lives studying are fast fading into irrelevance. Or perhaps they can, but keep this realization to themselves, for fear of no longer being invited on talk shows.
I suppose that since expertise is a matter of knowing a whole lot about very little, knowing everything about nothing—a thing that doesn’t exist—is its logical endpoint. Be that as it may. But I feel that we non-experts, armed with the 20/20 hindsight afforded to us by the example of the Soviet collapse, can avoid being similarly blindsided and dumbfounded by the American one. This is not an academic question: those who gauge it accurately may be able to get the hell out ahead of time, while the lights are mostly still on, while not everybody is walking around in a drug-induced mental haze, and while mass shootings and other types of mayhem are still considered newsworthy.
This hindsight makes it possible for us to spot certain markers that showed up then and are showing up now. The four that I want to discuss now are the following:
1. Allies are being alienated
2. Enmities dissipate
3. Ideology becomes irrelevant
4. Military posture turns flaccid
All of these are plain to see already in the American collapse. As with the Soviet collapse, there is a certain incubation period for each of these trends, lasting perhaps a year or two, during which not much seems to be happening, but when it is over everything comes unstuck all at once.
As the Soviet collapse unfolded, former friendships deteriorated, first into irrelevance, then into outright enmity. Prior to the collapse, the Iron Curtain ran between Eastern and Western Europe; three decades later it runs between Russia and the Baltic countries, Poland and the Ukraine. Whereas in the post-war period the Warsaw Pact countries derived many benefits from their association with Russia and its industrial might, as the end neared their membership in the Soviet camp became more and more of a hindrance to progress, hampering their integration with the more prosperous, less troubled countries further west and with the rest of the world.
Similarly with the US and the EU now, this partnership is also showing major signs of strain as Washington tries to prevent the EU from integrating with the rest of Eurasia. The particular threat of unilateral economic sanctions as part of a vain effort to block additional Russian natural gas pipelines into Europe and to force the Europeans to buy into an uncertain and overpriced American liquefied natural gas scheme has laid bare the fact that the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial. And as Britain splits from Europe and clings closer to the US, a new Iron Curtain is gradually emerging, but this time it will run through the English Channel, separating the Anglophone world from Eurasia.
Similar developments are afoot in the east, affecting South Korea and Japan. Trump’s flip-flopping between tempestuous tweeting and conciliatory rhetoric vis-à-vis North Korea has laid bare the emptiness of American security guarantees. Both of these countries now see the need to make their own security arrangements and to start reasserting their sovereignty in military matters. Meanwhile, for the US, being incoherent is but a pit stop on the way to becoming irrelevant.
During the entire period of the Cold War the United States was the Soviet Union’s arch-enemy, and any effort by Washington to give advice or to dictate terms was met with loud, synchronized, ideologically fortified barking from Moscow: the imperialist aggressor is at it again; pay no heed. This self-righteous noise worked quite well for a surprisingly long time, and continued to work while the Soviet Union was making impressive new conquests—in space, in technology, science and medicine, in international humanitarian projects and so on, but as stagnation set in it started to ring hollow.
After the Soviet collapse, this immunity against American contagion disappeared. Western “experts” and “advisors” flooded in, and proposed “reforms” such as dismemberment of the USSR into 15 separate countries (trapping millions of people on the wrong side of some newly thought-up border), shock therapy (which impoverished almost the entirety of the Russian population), privatization (which put major public assets in the hands of a few politically connected, mostly Jewish oligarchs) and various other schemes designed to destroy Russia and drive its population into extinction. They would probably have succeeded had they not been stopped in time.
Symmetrically, the Washingtonians considered the USSR as their arch-enemy. After it went away, there was a bit of confusion. The Pentagon tried talking up “Russian mafia” as a major threat to world peace, but that seemed laughable. Then, by dint of demolishing a couple of New York skyscrapers, perhaps by placing small nuclear charges in the bedrock beneath their foundations (those were the demolition plans that were on file) they happily embraced the concept of “war on terror” and went about bombing various countries that didn’t have a terrorism problem before then but certainly do now. Then, once that stupid plan ran its course, the Washingtonians went back to reviling and harassing Russia.
But now a strange smell is in the wind in Washington: the smell of failure. Air is leaking out of the campaign to vilify Russia, and it is putrid. Meanwhile, Trump is continuing to make noises to the effect that a rapprochement with Russia is desirable and that a summit between the leaders should be held. Trump is also borrowing some pages from the Russian rulebook: just as Russia responded to Western sanctions with countersanctions, Trump is starting to respond to Western tariffs with countertariffs. We should expect American enmity against Russia to dissipate some time before American attitudes toward Russia (and much else) become irrelevant. We should also expect that, once the fracking bubble pops, the US will become dependent on Russian oil and liquefied natural gas, which it will be forced to pay for with gold. (Fracking involves a two-phase combustion process: the first phase burns borrowed money to produce oil and gas; the second burns the oil and the gas.)
Other enmities are on the wane as well. Trump has just signed an interesting piece of paper with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The deal (if we call it that) is a tacit act of surrender. It was orchestrated by Russia and China. It affirms what North and South Korea had already agreed to: eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Just as Gorbachev acquiesced to the reunification of Germany and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany, Trump is getting ready to acquiesce to the reunification of Korea and the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the end of the Soviet imperium, the dismantlement of the Korean Demilitarized Zone will spell the end of the American one.
While the US never had anything as rigorous as the Soviet Union’s communist dogma, its hodgepodge of pro-democracy propaganda, laissez-faire capitalism, free trade and military domination was potent for a time. Once the US stopped being the world’s largest industrial powerhouse, ceding ground first to Germany and Japan, then to China, it went along accumulating prodigious levels of debt, essentially confiscating and spending the world’s savings, while defending the US dollar with the threat of violence. It was, for a time, understood that the exorbitant privilege of endless money printing needs to be defended with the blood of American soldiers. The US saw itself, and positioned itself, as the indispensable country, able to control and to dictate terms to the entire planet, terrorizing or blockading various other countries as needed. Now all of these ideological shibboleths are in shambles.
• The pro-democracy rhetoric is still dutifully spouted by politicians and mass-media mouthpieces, but in practice the US is no longer a democracy. It has been turned into a lobbyist’s paradise in which the lobbyists are no longer confined to the lobby but have installed themselves in congressional offices and are drafting prodigious quantities of legislation to suit the private interests of corporations and oligarchs. Nor is the American penchant for democracy traceable in the support the US lavishes on dictatorships around the world or in its increasing tendency to enact and enforce extraterritorial laws without international consent.
• Laissez-faire capitalism is also very much dead, supplanted by crony capitalism nurtured by a thorough melding of Washington and Wall Street elites. Private enterprise is no longer free but concentrated in a handful of giant corporations while about a third of the employed population in the US works in the public sector. The US Department of Defense is the largest single employer in the country as well as in the whole world. About 100 million of working-age able-bodied Americans do not work. Most of the rest work in service jobs, producing nothing durable. An increasing number of people is holding onto a precarious livelihood by working sporadic gigs. The whole system is fueled—including parts of it that actually produce the fuel, such as the fracking industry—by debt. No sane person, if asked to provide a workable description of capitalism, would come up with such a derelict scheme.
• Free trade was talked up until very recently, if not actually implemented. Unimpeded trade over great distances is the sine qua non of all empires, the US empire included. In the past, warships and the threat of occupation were used to force countries, such as Japan, to open themselves up to international trade. Quite recently, the Obama administration was quite active in its attempts to push through various transoceanic partnerships, but none of them have succeeded. And now Trump has set about wrecking what free trade there was by a combination of sanctions and tariffs, in a misguided attempt to rekindle America’s lost greatness by turning inward. Along the way, sanctions on the use of the US dollar in international trade, especially with key energy exporting nations such as Iran and Venezuela, are accelerating the process by which the US dollar is being dethroned as the world’s reserve currency, demolishing America’s exorbitant privilege of endless money-printing.
The Soviet collapse was to some extent presaged by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Prior to that point, it was still possible to talk up the “international duty” of the Red Army to make the world (or at least the liberated parts of it) safe for socialism. After that point the very concept of military domination was lost, and interventions that were possible before, such as in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, were no longer even thinkable. When Eastern Europe rose in rebellion in 1989, the Soviet military empire simply folded, abandoning its bases and military hardware and pulling out.
In the case of the US, for now it remains capable of quite a lot of mischief, but it has become clear that military domination of the whole planet is no longer possible for it. The US military is still huge, but it is quite flaccid. It is no longer able to field a ground force of any size and confines itself to aerial bombardment, training and arming of “moderate terrorists” and mercenaries, and pointless steaming about the oceans. None of the recent military adventures have resulted in anything resembling peace on terms that the American planners had originally envisioned or have ever considered desirable: Afghanistan has been turned into a terrorist incubator and a heroin factory; Iraq has been absorbed into a continuous Shia crescent that now runs from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
US military bases are still found throughout the world. They were meant to project American power over both hemispheres of the globe, but they have been largely neutralized by the advent of new long-range precision weapons, potent air defense technology and electronic warfare wizardry. These numerous “lily pads,” as they are sometimes called, are the opposite of military assets: they are useless but expensive targets located in places that are hard to defend but easy for potential adversaries to attack. They can only be used for pretend-combat, and the endless series of military training exercises, such as the ones in the Baltic statelets, right on the Russian border, or the ones in South Korea, are meant to be provocative, but they are paragons of pointlessness, since attacking either Russia or North Korea would be a suicidal move. They are basically confidence-building exercises, and their increasing intensity testifies to a pronounced and growing deficit of confidence.
People never tire of pointing out the huge size of the US military budget, but they almost always neglect to mention that what the US gets per unit money is ten times less than, for example, Russia. It is a bloated and ineffectual extortion scheme that produces large quantities of boondoggles—an endlessly thirsty public money sponge. No matter how much money it soaks up, it will never solve the fundamental problem of being incapable to go to war against any adequately armed opponent without suffering unacceptable levels of damage. Around the world, the US is still loathed, but it is feared less and less: a fatal trend for an empire. But America has done quite well in militarizing its local police departments, so that when the time comes it will be ready to go to war… against itself.
This analysis may read like a historical survey detached from practical, everyday considerations. But I believe that it has practical merit. If the citizens of the USSR were informed, prior to the events of 1990, of what was about to befall them, they would have behaved quite differently, and quite a lot of personal tragedy might have been avoided. A very useful distinction can be made between collapse avoidance (which is futile; all empires collapse) and worst-case scenario avoidance, which will become, as collapse picks up speed, your most important concern. Your approach may involve fleeing to safer ground, or preparing to survive it where you are. You may choose your own collapse markers and make your own predictions about their timing instead of relying on mine. But, having witnessed one collapse, and now witnessing another, the one approach I would definitely not recommend is doing nothing and hoping for the best.
Orlov at his best!
This is why is subscribe to his Patreon
Quality in every paragraph
Absolutely brilliant analysis and commentary, Dmitri!
The population of America is aware of none of what you say, however. In the eyes of the voting public, this country is what the political rhetoric and the media propaganda presents it to be, and is nothing like what you (and I) and the rest of the world sees.
1. Allies are being alienated? Not according to Trump, and this in one "Trump lie" the media will not debunk even as it reports on "Brexit, the EU and improving ties between both Koreas and China. Somehow we are given the impression that Europe hates Trump but still loves Congress, even as Congress imposes sanctions and fails to restrain a president.
2. Enmities dissipate? Not according to the media which warns of Russia as a continuing and ever increasing danger and China which threatens our control of, get this, the South China Sea.
3. Ideology becomes irrelevant? According to the media we are still spreading democracy everywhere, hundreds of nations large and small are utterly dependendent upon us to teach their militaries how to fight off brigands aremed with nothing more potent than AK-47s.
4. Military posture turns flaccid? And you know very well how our military is presented, and is seen by the politicians, the media, and the "man on the street" in this nation.
So the truth of "what you don't know won't hurt you" is comforting, right until it bites your ass completely off because you were not watching for it.
Thanks thanks thanks again Mr. O for a brilliant encapsulation of recent and future events. I find your stuff to be such useful weapons. Take care.
I wonder if the apparent collapse of the EU project, at least as regards political union is concerned, will make it possible for Britain to re-establish sensible trade relations with Europe, and not be quite so out-in-the-cold as you're envisioning. But that would require a major shift in their crony class sructure as well as "leadership". But they have still living remnants of surviving hard times and war at home, which the US does not. I was born after ww2, but have a strong generational memory of those times, even as the child of ex-pats in Canada. It's that memory which has kept us in "careful" or "prepping" mode most of my 70 years. I don't get much traction in the larger community talking about societal collapse, but earthquakes and wildfires are sufficiently clear and present dangers to encourage at least some general preparedness. And community solidarity is always worth working toward. Many many thanks for discussing this always fascinating subject again and again, Dmitry - the message is percolating. Fantasyland is wearing thin for some, at least.
If the US indeed allows the south/north and could not keep its forces there, yes, I think we would be witnessing the first visible signs of imperial collapse. But, I think the difference between US and USSR were not superficial. the elite of USSR, for example, did not have personal economical stakes in the eastern Europe and indeed their relationship with eastern Europe was not based on extortion. But, I am afraid, US elite would very much do anything to avoid losing their marbles and that includes blowing countries up. That is why I think until and unless a popular uprising on a significant country (for example south korea as was the case in east germany) happens we will wait a lot longer to witness the collapse
Brilliant. But I have no idea what to do in response. I'm too old for it to really matter for myself. The Social Security spigot will be turned down and then off as time goes on. I'll just have to shrivel up and die with the rest of the boomers. The young people around me aren't seeing the big picture and are too wrapped up in surviving day to day, like little fish in a pond that is steadily shrinking. The fossil fuel era has lasted through enough generations that scarcely anyone is left who can live without it. Maybe Amish and Hutterites have a shot. Everyone else has to reinvent basic life from scratch which won't go well at all.
There are several trends in the US, and North America in general, that are accelerating the trend toward collapse...The Fed's policies over the last 10 years have crushed pension funds and destroyed much of private sector business. The financial collapse of government is being accelerated by the mass importation of low IQ 3d worlders who are drawing huge amounts of welfare, especially medical welfare, and the engineered collapse of manufacturing proceeds apace...Democracy has become a bad joke, as levels of vote fraud in large cities reach epic proportions...perhaps as many as 13 million votes for Hillary were fraudulent.And the elites don't plan to change anything, so my guess is that the American experiment and empire will end in 15-20 years.
Excellent analysis, Dmitry! Thank you for the thought-provoking post.
The US has been an Oligarchy since at least the 1890s. There was plenty of open information about people buying elections in that period. In the time since it has only become more hidden as the methods have become more occult.
On the collapse of American empire or industrial civilization in general, Duncan's Olduvai Theory looks to increasing frequency of grid outages as a key marker, with lights out for good in 2030.
Personally, I watch the beer cooler--when it's no longer fully stocked on a regular basis, we get another 3-6 months.
- for a most excellent collapse update.
Great read.. again!!
I like to think Hurb Brooks and a hand full of college age men had a hand in delivery the first blow to the foundation of the USSR. That was one heck of a miracle.
I’m always amazed at your ability to analyze the big picture in such depth. It’s actually fascinating and fun to read. However, Jayhawk raises some very good points, particularly the level of ignorance regarding the true state of our national condition. I don’t think Soviet citizens were as ignorant as ours, but I could be wrong on that one. Still, with 100 million unemployed, you would think Americans would wize up. The Amish will not fare well. They will be wiped out by violent warlords. No peaceful group will fare well, at least not initially. I always plan for the worst and hope for the best. When the worst does come, I’m always glad I planned for it, even though I didn’t want it.
Thank you Dmitry. USA implosion is like watching a movie you know the ending to, but are still fascinated by the actors, so you keep watching. As a foreign born US citizen of many decades now, I see the parallels between the fascist nature of the US government and the government of my birth country, before they were overthrown in a violent revolution.
And its not about "governments", so much as it is about groups of plutocrats/oligarchs who have the power to control well beyond country boundaries.
Its comforting to know Russia and China to date are pursuing a slow, controlled unraveling of the Empire, choosing to swallow pride to avoid the deaths of many innocent people. Not that they hold all the cards, but its clear they are exercising great restraint and wisdom in navigating these treacherous waters of change.
"And community solidarity is always worth working toward." This may work in a small town, such as we live in, in rural Australia, but the cities?
Another excellent, clear, summation Dmitry, always providing food for thought.
I often ponder on how the collapse will affect the US sycophant countries, like Australia. There is already becoming a major internal divide within the populace between what the Government is doing and saying, and what the people actually want! Not as marked as in the US, but the current crop of cretins in power are quite intent on pulling the country in that direction, with the same "loot the public oommons and beat the people into submission or starve" mentality..
Yes Australia has been a US sycophant country, but for those of you who don't live here, you might be surprised at the amount of tribute paid to the Chinese Communist Party rather than Washington these days.
China is exerting an increasing amount of influence in Australia, and I would say the US collapse will only further play into CCP's hands. We have plenty of space, clean air, safe water, arable land and also luxury homes in stable political climate.
A Chinese state-controlled corporation (Landbridge) now owns and operates the entire Port of Darwin.
One of the most surprising developments of the last ten years has been the revival of the ex-Soviet sphere. Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Poland, Hungary, Czechia, etc... are all booming like crazy. In contrast, the UK and the US are visibly going down the drain and Italy, France, Spain, Greece, etc... aren't doing that great either. It seems there is a new Eurasian power centre forming, built on industrial might and prudent trade and fiscal policies, stretching from Germany all the way to China. China's new silk road initiative is a major part of that as are Russian efforts to expand trading relations all over its periphery and to make up with Germany. With Trump in power, Putin suddenly looks like the best friend you could have for yourself.
My own long view about what is happening, looks like this:
After half a Millennium of exploiting the rest of the world, through its highly immoral and outright sinful (usury is banned by the Bible and the Quran) financial schemes, the Imperialists (for lack of a better word) have finally been found out and are being shut out from the world economy and decision-making. It is being replaced by an economy that is built on producing real things for real people, with an industrial supply chain stretching from Amsterdam to Yokohama. Those that thrive on speculation and usury, siphoning off money from productive nations, the UK, US, Italy, France, etc... are facing serious problems. Their financial systems will collapse, inevitably. You can see the contrast with Germany, Czechia, Poland, Hungary, China, Russia, etc... where new factories are popping up every day, unemployment is at record lows and factory managers have to catch workers with lassos.
Talking to Andalusian in a bar last night, I was told that the British should leave Gibraltar, something that I'm in entire agreement with. But when I added that the U.S. military should also leave nearby Rota, home to U.S.'s biggest naval base in Southern Europe, he took a different tack.
Invited to Spain by dictator Francisco Franco in 1953 Rota is a home away from home to countless sailors, Marines, US Army troops and US Air Force experts and their families. I tried to tell my Andalusian friend they are all just part of the U.S. invasion force of Europe, which occupies the continent, after refusing to go home after WW2. Those that think isn't should consider what might happen should a future government of Spain ask them all to pack their bags for the home journey.
What this Andalusian couldn't understand is far from being employed to discourage attack from on Europe's Southern Flank by an enemy, Rota is regularly used to attack nations to the East and South of Spain that get out of line.
It is also plays home port for the USS Donald Cook, chiefly remembered for fleeing the Black Sea with its tail between its legs in April 2016, when attempting a bit of gunboat diplomacy off the coast of Crimea, 19th century British Empire style. So what use is the U.S. military to the defence of Europe? None whatsoever. Quite the opposite, its role is to deflect a nuclear first strike being targeted at the U.S, something it will also fail miserably to do.
Nevertheless, what many Andalusians fail to grasp is the both Gibraltar and Rota make Andalusia a prime target should a nuclear confrontation break out. With the neo-con mafia now attempting to strong arm European nations into coughing up more protection money to act as sitting ducks when the proverbial hits the fan, it might be as good a time as any to show them the door.
The Empire is falling apart and Europe may just have to bite the bullet and hurry things along before being Europeanized becomes a new term for the infliction of massive collateral damage. I wish I could turn the booting of the U.S. from Europe into a prediction, but unfortunately for hundreds of millions of Europeans and myself, I can't.
It amazes me that we can with one breath brag about how we used Afganistan, and our own military spending, to cause the collapse of the Soviet Union by conning it into destroying its own economy by disproportionate military spending, and in the next breath brag about how we spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined.
Well said, and clearly states what I have been thinking, but with far more information than I have. I am an american, and am waiting for the fall . . .one can try to make plans, but it is hard to say whether they will be adequate, or work. I cannot afford to leave the country, and I'm not sure I want to. I will be here, for whatever happens. Thank you for your analysis.
I’ve always wondered what percentage of the Soviet public actually believed the state propaganda up to the very end. Certainly, here in the US, increasing numbers are waking up, yet there is still a large cohort that swallows the mass media narrative hook, line and sinker. Awake or not, we all seem to be feeling the acceleration process toward some vague day of reckoning in the not-too-distant future.
I have spent a good portion of the last 20 years outside of America in a country where I resemble the inhabitants and speak the language fluently, and I'm still not convinced I would be better off here in a post-collapse scenario. I suppose any place would be better than America because you genuinely have no rights whatsoever. Nevertheless, unless it's in your nature to tread lightly and stay under the radar, there are too many cultural traps that simply can't be learned the easy way.
If you like to roll heavy (not take any shit), America is not for you, but the depression is starting to pinch the developing world. You can quickly find yourself in a sticky situation, and it can be both time-consuming and expensive to extricate yourself. In America, you might be cold and hungry, but there's nothing like the home field advantage.
The above is just one man's opinion, and your mileage may vary. Good luck to all!
An amusing book to read that was published just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union is "Capitalism, Communism and Coexistence" - 'From a bitter past to a better prospect', by John Kenneth Galbraith and Stanislav Menshikov, published 1988, in which the two carry on a dialogue about the future of the two empires, apparently without the slightest idea that the Soviet Union is on the brink of collapse.
I'm new here but did like it ...a lot...I also believe we do not have to wait long to have the final picture...congrats, Dmitri. 7
Last year I read a Gorbachev biography and the book by his right hand man Chernyaev. The implosion of the USSR was not what Gorbachev expected. He had hoped to modernize the Soviet System and curiously did not anticipate being dumped. If we use the USSR collapse as a sort of model I have to say I do not see Trump as even a Yeltsin.
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